bobby1933 (bobby1933) wrote,

Socrates and Compassion

"The Trojan war did not end with the embrace of Achilles and Priam. The fighting continued the next day and would not cease until the beautiful city of Troy was destroyed. We have moments of insight that take us beyond our self absorption, but it is all to easy to fall back into our old ways. Yaakov's epiphany at Peniel was the high point of his life, but he was unable to build upon it. The Genesis authors show that his later life was characterized by a debilitating egotism. When his daughter Dinah is raped, Yaakov is more concerned with his standing in the region than with her suffering. Instead of treating all the members of his family with equal affection, he shows a self indulgent partiality to his favorite son which has almost fatal consequences.

"This does not mean we end on a depressing note. It is rather a reminder that the attempt to become a compassionate human being is a lifelong project....."

That is how Karen Armstrong begins the epilogue to Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. It is something i will keep in mind if i reread this book as i fully intend to, perhaps several times. In reading i have taken issue with several of her statements, picked at them might be a more accurate expression. Specifically, i have asked if the Socratic dialogues are a good model for compassionate speech; and i am learning that Plato's Socrates does not suffer fools graciously. And that is too bad because there are a lot of us fools out here. So i am faulting Armstrong and Plato for not giving me a more saintly Socrates.

But this does not mean that there is no perfect model of compassion, only that i have not met her yet (for i think that the first model i meet will be female). As with Yaakov, the greatest failures of compassion in the most compassionate of men have been associated with their treatment of women. Patriarchal culture blinds men to their cruelty toward women and often blinds women to the injustice of the ways they are treated.

The compassionate person must find a way to leave his or her culture behind.
Tags: platonic project, toward compassion
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